1) Research the dining plan
Before you decide to book a trip to Walt Disney World using the free dining promotion, you’ll want to do your research and make sure the dining plan is something you’d actually be interested in. Many guests are not extremely knowledgeable about the dining plans before booking their trips, and without any prior knowledge it’s easy to understand why the phrase “free dining,” sounds so appealing. It is of course appealing, because “free” anything on a Disney vacation is always worth looking into. However in the case of free dining, it is important to make sure that the restaurants you’d like to eat at are covered by the plan, and that you’re comfortable passing up other discounts in favor of the free dining promotion.
2) Estimate which discount is best for you
The first step to choosing the best discount for you is to understand your budget. Once you have a set budget in mind, determine if it would be better for you to use a discount for dining or for your resort. Deciding which discount is best will really be up to your individual family. If you are planning on eating at a number of fairly expensive restaurants, forgoing the resort rate discount in favor of free dining might be in your best interest. However if the dining plan sounds like more food than your family could ever reasonably eat, you may be better using a resort discount and paying for meals out of pocket. It can be a little bit time consuming, but it is always worth doing some math to figure out which discount would save you more money off your vacation.
3) Choose the right time of year
This tip is especially important if you like to book your Disney trips far in advance, and modify your reservation later when the discounts are released. If you are planning a trip during Fourth of July for instance, you will likely never come across a discount for free dining. So if you are planning your trip around this promotion, it is best to wait until the discounts are released, or at least plan for a time of year (like the Fall) when free dining has typically been offered in the past.
4) Choose a resort tier
While free dining is indeed a dining discount and not a resort discount, it is actually very important to choose the right resort for your free dining promotion. A value resort reservation comes with a free quick service dining plan, which includes multiple snack and quick service meals per person per day, but no table service meals. A guest staying at a value resort can choose to pay the difference and upgrade to the standard dining plan, however if you plan on doing this I would suggest double checking to see if this option is cheaper than simply staying at a moderate resort.
5) Research menus ahead of time
Knowing which restaurants you’d like to visit ahead of time will be helpful regardless of whether or not you use the free dining promotion. The Walt Disney World Resort is twice the size of Manhattan, so as you might expect without doing research you’ll be hit with tons of restaurants once you arrive for your vacation. Having a few picks for which restaurants appeal to your family ahead of time will be helpful in being sure of which ones are included in the dining plan, and for making reservations, which leads us to our next tip:
6) Make reservations in advance
Even if your meals are paid for in advance using the free dining promotion, the discount does not give you any advantage over other guests when it comes to getting a table. If there are any restaurants you’d like to eat at that are known to be particularly popular (think Be Our Guest or Cinderella’s Royal Table), securing reservations in advance is always a good idea regardless of how you’ll be paying for your food.
7) Get the most out of your snack credits
Even though you’re probably thinking of your dining plan as “free,” you did pay a more expensive resort rate to secure the free dining plan, so trying to get the greatest value out of your snack credits is still a good idea. For example, a water bottle counts as a snack on the plan, however price wise it is cheaper than many other snack options. Instead of using snack credits for a water bottle, either pay for the bottle out of pocket or get a cup of water for free from a quick service restaurant, and save your snack credits for something more expensive.
8) Read up on how the plan works
One misconception about the dining plan, especially when it is “free,” is that the plan is all inclusive. The plan, whether it is free or not, does not include anything and everything you can eat. The standard Disney Dining Plan allots each guest in the party one table service meal, quick service meal, and two snacks per night of the trip. While there is not set order you need to use the credits in, it is important to know that there is a limit and the plan is never meant to create an all inclusive vacation.